Spartacus: Vengeance – Pilot
Now those of you familiar with Starz’s show will no doubt be wondering why I have titled this as a pilot when it is technically a premiere and my answer is poetic license, I have stretched the truth where opportunity was provided. There is a whole complicated story as to why the show has run in such a random manner – eight episodes of one story, then four of another and now back again to where we first left off for a full season run – but the result is that the show has been fragmented into these distinctly individual parts which essentially function as programs unto themselves. While one would assume that this did not hold true of Vengeance, that what we are set to get this Summer is second season of the original show, that simply isn’t the case. You fans should be warned, this is not the show you know; this Spartacus is a new man entirely, this episode our first look at it and I have to say it’s certainly not love at first sight.
While the sex and bloody violence are both still here in those same excessive amounts the characters all feel unfamiliar to me and so I care about neither. For most of the show’s audience I imagine that this would be no great criticism, but the vocal fans of the program (of which I am one ) have spent their time pontificating about how the viscera is very little of what makes them watch the show and that it is the strong writing that keeps them sticking around, so for them and me this is dire. A large percentage of the blame should be applied to the aforementioned complicated story: leaping forward in time to go back to where you were well over a year ago, which so happens to be in the midst of a leap from one central structure and location to another is the inverse of ideal, add onto this the tragic loss of the show’s lead, Andy Whitfield, and you end up with a near-certain case of audience alienation and a valid excuse.
Changing a show so drastically in mid-stream is a ballsy move and one that I normally admire (See: Todd Margaret) but it takes a strong creative team to do it and after this episode I have my doubts that DeKnight is heading such a team. Unfortunately the script exacerbates all of those ingrained issues by opening in media res, throwing names and subplots around more like a finale rather than a return and holding back the few familiar faces that still remain standing until late in proceedings. There also appears to be a change in the shows approach to its content, something which may have a lot to do with a host of new writers that were brought aboard for this season. For one the program is now rather puerile in its use of the gore, showering us with it in sickening, perverted ways instead of the attempts at artfulness that used to accompany it. The female characters too were always a point of contention but ultimately I felt that there was depth and power enough in the women protagonists to excuse the egregious nudity: here though they are mindless, manipulative without reason and in the case of Spartie’s new beau mute for most of the episode even though she is on screen for most of it, she just stares longingly at the camera rather than speaking.
Spartacus is far too intriguing fora a program with its unabashed shallowness, there really shouldn’t be anything to ponder or discuss after the viewing of an episode and yet, there we were and here I am. The question is, will I be here again after this? Spartacus says in this week’s episode that he is a bit of a hassle to kill, and that endurance seems to have carried along into his namesake; the show has survived one perilously bad pilot in the past, so why not another? Unfortunately we all already know exactly how Spartie’s story will end – crucified by those he now seeks to destroy – and so we know that his immortality will eventually be entirely disproved, his luck will run out and thus so to will the shows. Will this be the moment, the final decisive fight? Probably not, the show will no doubt continue to maim, mutilate and titillate as it so pleases, an ever bolstered bacchanal of blood, but I for one will be abandoning the rebellion here. If the roman’s don’t get me I may yet return upon hearing news of increased strength, but I do not have high hopes for that to happen. Another one falls in the arena…